by Joe Bethancourt © 1999 W.J. Bethancourt III
last update: 07/30/09
First of all, I must say that many of my statements are predicated on several things. First of all, generic mundane law of the USA, and of the state of Arizona, with general weapons etiquette from years spent handling firearms, edged weapons and other playtoys both in the SCA, as a professional duty, and generally in mundane situations.
Thus, some of my statements may -not apply- to your particular area of Mundania.
Secondly, I am not a lawyer. Do not take this article as legal advice. It is merely -opinion-. This site is not intended to be legal advice nor does it create an attorney client relationship. Readers should seek the advice of a competent attorney when they need legal advice regarding a specific situation.
That said, there are two statements that can be generally applied. I urge you to follow them.
1) KNOW YOUR LOCAL LAWS!
2) WHEN IN DOUBT, DON'T!
With that out of the way, let us begin......
First of all, all too often people tend to regard swords and knives and such as some kind of exotic personal jewelry. They are NOT. They are WEAPONS.
As weapons, they come under the regulation of mundane law -and- Convention rules. Remember that a lot.
SCA / Fannish Customs, and some observations on the Real Middle Ages:
Contrary to popular belief, medieval Lords and Ladies didn't run around wearing swords and knives all the time. Most of the time, they -might- carry a small utility knife, but even that is problematical. The men certainly didn't wear their war-swords constantly.
Those who -would- wear them would be Norse, Mongols, military men on-service, and the like .... in other words, active soldiers or "barbarians."
The cultured people of the period would only wear them if they felt they might need to use them, or as a ceremonial thing. Thus, a Coronation might be a perfectly good occasion to bring out the steel, but a 12th Night Revel might not .... unless you were part of some ceremony where it was needed, or you were a "barbarian." When you read about knights being "armed" or "armed cap-a-pie" it does -not- mean carrying a sword. It means "in armour." The sword might be there as part of the armour, but the -armour- is the important part here.
However .... we do like our sharp pointy-sticky things, and this is a fantasy game after all, so some fans tend to carry steel much of the time. Like any social grouping, we have evolved some customs about it:
Just as the attitude of "every firearm is loaded" is a good one, so the attitude of "every blade is sharp" is simply common sense. If you assume it is sharp (or loaded), then accidents can be kept to a minimum.
It has become the custom to shout "CLEAR!" when you draw live steel. This is a Good Thing, as it warns spectators that something sharp and pointy is floating about, and to Pay Attention. Don't expect them to avoid the blade, however. YOU are responsible for that blade, not them.
Draw -slowly-. If you jerk the blade out with a nice Conanesque flourish, you just might take the head off the three-year old child that you didn't see behind you. This tends to create a mess, and causes a lot of excitement that you could well do without.
When to Draw:
- 1) In honour of the Crown or Khan
- 2) In absolute, unquestioned defense of life
- 3) To show off the blade
THERE ARE ABSOLUTELY NO OTHER REASONS TO WAVE LIVE STEEL ABOUT AT ANY TIME !
When NOT to Draw:
- 1) At a Science Fiction Convention
- 2) At a Science Fiction Convention
- 3) At a Science Fiction Convention
There is a rule that seems to be universal at SF Conventions:
"IF IT'S DRAWN, YOU'RE GONE!"
They WILL throw you out on the spot. If you must show it off, go to your room at the hotel, or to a designated safe area (if any) and do it there, and then, IMMEDIATELY have it peace bonded again.
Here is a typical example of a good Convention Weapons Policy (NorWesCon):
Some weapons are not allowed at all: crossbows, slingshots, pellet guns, bows and arrows, water pistols, blowguns, catapults or any type of functioning projectile weapon-loaded or unloaded ( and, please, no real guns )1 - or any device that could be construed as a projectile weapon or any extension of the human hand. The only exceptions are nonfunctioning replicas that are kept in their holsters, or daggers, knives, and swords that are kept in their sheaths. All spears and staves must be no longer than six feet and the end of said devices must never project more than 12" from the bearer's body. All blades will be covered in all public areas and function spaces. Please remember to keep your pole arms and staves upright at all times. This policy is in direct line with the rules of the hotel and their security department. There will be no appeal to a violation of these rules. You will be asked to leave the hotel by hotel security and to leave the convention by us. The only type of peace bonding allowed is that provided by the convention. Fashion coordinated substitutes are not sufficient. Remember that all allowable weapons must still be peacebonded. The only exceptions to these rules are weapons that have been approved for display on stage during the masquerade and during programming specifically designed for weapons display. Bonding ties will be removed for such an event and replaced immediately afterward. If you remove the bonding tie in a private room to display your weapon, please return to the office to have the bonding tie replaced. Peacebonding will be available at at the Information Table, in the Security office, and from the roving security personnel. If you have any questions about this policy, please ask.
Peacebonding is available at the information table, and from the roving security personnel. All weapons and staffs must be peace-bonded. Remember: if it's drawn, it's gone. Ignorance is no excuse.
And here's another example, a bit more Draconian (WesterCon 54):
Westercon 54 is a weapon-free convention. This means the carrying and wearing of weapons will not be permitted, except as part of a Masquerade contestant's costume, and then only during the Masquerade. The Special Events department must give prior approval for the use of a weapon as part of a costume. Failure to do so is grounds for immediate expulsion from the convention.
In addition to the prohibitions in the Oregon Revised Statutes, the Convention Committee defines as weapons any object designed to cause bodily harm, or any replica of such an object and any other object the Committee determines to be dangerous. However the Committee reserves the right to amend this definition of a weapon, and the right to impound weapons for the duration of the convention.
Any weapons purchased in the Dealer's Room must be securely wrapped before they are taken out of the room.
The committee realizes that most people who would like to carry and wear weapons are sensible and careful individuals. However, because of the present liability laws, the risk of weapons causing accident or distress, and to preserve relationships with convention hotels we have had to adopt this policy. The safety of convention members has to be our overriding consideration.
Note: these notices in the Program Book (and on their websites) mean exactly what they say ...... and in some states (such as Arizona), failure to comply is a felony. KNOW YOUR LOCAL LAWS !
If you draw on someone, they might take you seriously, get stupid themselves, and make you the Horrible Example of "Ain't that just like a fanboy to bring a knife to a gun-fight!" This is a Bad Thing.
nb: kitchen knives are another thing entirely, of course.
Don't put your fingers on the blade. Your skin carries acids that will eat your fingerprints into the metal. This makes blade owners Very Cross.
Do not carry ANY blade unsheathed. Sheaths help to keep accidents to a minimum. They are a Good Thing. This includes spears, halberds and axes as well as daggers and swords. Know where the end of your sheath is. Don't poke people with it. Rapier and saber wearers (because these tend to be carried horizontally, rather than the vertical or semi-vertical suspension of the broadsword) would be well-advised to follow period style and unhook the blade and sheath and carry it under their arm, when they must deal with crowds.
"Peace Bonding" is a Good Idea, as it helps to keep jerks and drunks from grabbing your blade, keep it from falling out of the sheath, and slows down an impulsive draw long enough for more sensible people to thump the malefactor's head.
Mundania and Weapons:
DO NOT carry any concealed blades unless you have the appropriate concealed weapons license within the local mundane jurisdiction, or are otherwise within the parameters of the local laws.1 We must live under mundane law even at a Convention, and you might forget about the blades when you leave the hotel to go home. Then, when the local police pull you over for speeding (or being a weirdo in a no-weirdo zone) and notice the weapons (and they -will-) you, and all with you, will rapidly find yourselves in a Situation of Great Peril.
There are also some jurisdictions that ban -any- weapons in their areas (city or county parks, some hotels and such like). This is irksome, but ..... obey the local laws. You and your friends will be the better off for it.
When you are off-site, it is considered polite to take off your weaponry before entering the local grocery or restaurant. Making the General Public nervous is not one of the aims of Fandom, and some jurisdictions might -require- disarming in public places. Do it. It's the Nice Thing To Do.
In transporting your weaponry to and from events, you face mundane considerations. Once again, KNOW YOUR LOCAL LAWS! For the most part, if the weaponry is locked in a case in the trunk of your car, you should be OK, but ... local laws differ on this. KNOW THE LOCAL LAWS!
If you are traveling between states of the USA, or between countries, be aware of the laws of the various jurisdictions you will be traveling thru. What is perfectly legal in Arizona is a felony in California.
Needless to say, but it MUST be said: DON'T wear your weapons in your car. Your local police get VERY nervous about traffic stops anyway, and finding armed, strange looking people in the car will tend to make them very upset at you. Having a nervous police officer screw the barrel of a 10 mm into your ear is not a Fun Experience.
Some people might tell you that since the weapons are not intended for real use (meaning: killing people), and are "just for show," that it's fine to wear them and any charges that local law enforcement might bring against you will be dropped. Don't you believe it. You will still have to pay out an inordinate amount of money to a lawyer. KNOW YOUR LOCAL LAWS!
You would be amazed how fast you and your three friends in the car can become a "cultic conspiracy" for the small-town papers ..... and how much the Chief of Police of that small town enjoys such publicity just before election time.
Be aware that there are over 28,000 laws in the USA that RESTRICT firearms, counting all the various jurisdictions. Many of these also include knives of all kinds. Go read this article for some good advice about travelling with weapons, keeping in mind that while the author is talking about firearms, many of the problems also apply to knives and swords.
Sharp or Not?:
Whether one's blades are sharpened or not seems to be a matter of some controversy. I have heard it said that in some jurisdictions if the blade is not sharpened it is allegedly not considered a weapon. Don't you believe it! Is a firearm not a weapon just because it is unloaded?
Frankly, if you carry an unsharpened blade, you are wearing jewelry and should consider not wearing it at all, because it is useless for its intended purpose. This is my personal opinion, take it for what it's worth.
There are period firearms that occasionally show up at SCA events. These are "black powder" and as such may or may not fall under your local mundane "firearms" regulations. CHECK YOUR LOCAL LAWS!
- 1) carry them loaded at any time.
- 2) point them at ANYONE for ANY reason.
- 3) wave them about.
- 4) fail to get them peace-bonded.
Doing #2 and #3 above, at least in this corner of the World (Arizona), will get you a form of attention that you will not enjoy.
As far as Science Fiction Conventions ..... don't even bother. Cons usually restrict firearms display pretty rigidly,2 and real firearms make too many people nervous enough to wet their pants.
Do not leave ANY weapon unattended. YOU are responsible for that weapon. If someone takes it and uses it in an illegal act, YOU are ethically and morally responsible (and in some jurisdictions LEGALLY responsible) for that illegal use. Equally, if a child hurts themselves or others with it, YOU are responsible.
Dealing with Law-Enforcement:
BE NICE! That cop has a tough job, and most of the people he or she has to deal with are some of the scummiest people you can imagine. The officer will assume, on meeting you for the first time, that you
- 1) hate cops
- 2) are armed and dangerous
- 3) and, if you are in costume, are Very Strange and possibly a genuine whack-job.
You may not like this attitude, but it tends to save cops' lives. This is a Good Thing.
Remember also that if you are in a car with out-of-state license plates, it is (in the minds of many in law-enforcement) one strike against you already.
Remember also that if you fall into certain "profiles" YOU WILL BE STOPPED. Do you look scruffy? Are you driving a beat-up car? Do you have a tail-light out? Do you "not fit the neighborhood?"
When you must deal with a peace officer at or around a Con, gently remove your weapons belt and lay it on the ground or give it to a friend BEFORE you approach the officer. If you are armed when you approach him, he might get a bit hinky. If he approaches you, put your hands and arms AWAY FROM ANY WEAPONS in a VERY OBVIOUS manner, and let him tell you what to do next. Take your hands out of your pockets. (It's usually a good idea to have a designated person for dealing with law enforcement. The Con has people that will do this, so let them handle it while you stay out of the way.)
If you are pulled over in your car, and the officer asks if you have any weapons in your vehicle .... well, once again, KNOW YOUR LOCAL LAWS. In some areas, you might answer, "Yep, got several dirks, and three broadswords on the back seat," and the nice officer would then say, "Cool! Can I see them! I like swords and knives!" or he might say "You are under arrest ..."
This is an example of why good local public relations about the Convention, and Fandom in general, is more vital than might be first apparent. If the officer knows about the SCA / Fandom, he just might say, "OK, no problem," or even (as has happened) introduce himself by his SCA name and complain that he can't make the Con! If he has never heard of us, or has only heard of us as a bunch of kooks, then his reaction might be very different indeed.
And be NICE to the Hotel Security people. Co-operate with them, and you'll have a nice weekend. Act stupid, and you may find yourself and your baggage deposited unceremoniously and rudely in the parking lot ...... and you'll get very little sympathy from the ConCom.
Children and Weapons:
I raised several kids with weapons of all types in the house. These ranged from edged medieval weapons to the latest in mundane firepower. We -never- had a problem, because we set, and enforced, several rules:
- 1) If it is not yours, you may not play with it. This applies to ANYTHING.
- 2) If you can't unload it, or don't know how to unload it, you may not touch it.
- 3) Weapons are personal things. You don't touch other people's personal things without permission.
- 4) You can play with them UNDER ADULT SUPERVISION when you show us you can be responsible .... and the first thing our kids learned was the real effect of weapons. Go buy a couple of watermelons. Explain to the kids that the watermelon is a lot like their heads. Then hit it with an axe or a sword. Then shoot another one with a hollow-point .45 .....the lesson is graphic, and lasting. They learned the difference between pretend and real.
- 5) Let them know that if they demonstrate, consistently over a period of time, that they can behave responsibly and thoughtfully, that they will get one of their own.
When your kids are toddlers, or very young, you should child-proof your home in reference to your weaponry, or anything fragile for that matter. They are too young to know better. Keep the weapons out of their reach. We child-proof our homes in regards to electricity, and should do so in regards to weapons just as carefully.
After they mature to the point where they can associate consequences with actions, you can TRY OUT the above rules. They may not work for your kids. All I can say is that these worked with mine, bearing in mind that we never had to lock any cupboards either. My boys were able to have their own .22 rifles by age 13 with no worries from either me or my Sweet Lady Wife.
Weapons etiquette is usually a matter of simple common sense and polite behaviour. If you consider, BEFORE you act, whether your actions will upset anyone, or offend someone, or hurt someone, or (worse) make them nervous enough to draw a weapon -on you,- then you should be all right.
But if you behave foolishly, you may be asked to put the weapon away, or to leave and not come back. Or those Big Hairy Guys over there just might say "to heck with it" and thump you as an object lesson. Edged weapons are serious matters, and should not be regarded lightly.
Remember that when you are dealing with Mundania, YOU ARE FANDOM. What those people see is what they will remember about -all- of us. Give them a good impression of responsible, thinking people.
One last recommendation: if you really feel you might need a weapon for self-defense while you are at a Con, learn cane-fighting (single-stick) and carry a cane. It's legal, it's non-threatening, and in an expert's hands can take out darn near anything you are likely to run into.
And remember this: irresponsible behaviour with weapons only contributes to those who wish to deny us our rights of self-defense. The totalitarans and neo-facists depend on crises to justify depriving people of their freedom. Don't give them an excuse!
- A Guide To State and Federal Firearms Laws ( USA )
- US State Knife Laws
- California Knife Laws
- California's Catch-22
- AltaVista: Simple Query concealed+weapon
- What's "Gun Control" all about?
- An index of what in Canada is considered a prohibited weapon
This page courtesy of the Great Dark Horde
This article is © copyright 1995, 1998, 1999 W.J. Bethancourt III. Permission is REFUSED to reprint in any corporate SCA publications. Unofficial publications / fanzines may reprint at will, providing the credit to the Great Dark Horde, and this copyright notice, are included in full.